Why can’t you write? Before you can overcome writer’s block, you need to find the source. Here are five causes of writer’s block and a Sioux Indian parable about awareness, to help you stay motivated to keep writing.
One cause of writer’s block is perfectionism. “[A writer who is a perfectionist] expects her first drafts to be polished and well organized – in other words, like other people’s final drafts,” says Hillary Rettig, author of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block. “When she fails at that unreasonable goal, she reacts with great harshness, calling herself a ‘loser’ and other names. And then, losing confidence and perspective, she abandons her writing project.”
In The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block, Rettig describes how to identify and overcome perfectionism, manage your time, optimize your writing process, understand and claim your identity as a writer, cultivate resilience in the face of rejection and harsh criticism, and more. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, or poetry, screenplays or something else – or whether you write for business or school – Rettig’s tips will help you write more, lower your stress, and bring you joy and fulfillment.
Below are five common causes of stalled writing (including perfectionism), plus tips for overcoming writer’s block. First, though, I want to share a Sioux Indian parable about how powerful you are – as a writer, as a human, and as a spirit who is briefly passing through this world.
The Parable of Awareness – A Sioux Indian Story
The Creator gathered all of Creation and said, “I want to hide something from the humans until they are ready for it. It is the realization that they create their own reality.”
The eagle said, “Give it to me, I will take it to the moon.”
“No. One day they will go there and find it,” the Creator said.
The salmon said, “I will bury it on the bottom of the ocean.”
“No. They will go there too,” said the Creator.
The buffalo said, “I will bury it on the Great Plains.”
“They will cut into the skin of the Earth and find it even there,” the Creator said.
Grandmother Mole, who is the soul of Mother Earth and who sees with spiritual eyes, said, “Put it inside of them.”
“Yes,” the Creator said.
5 Causes of Writer’s Block
You are creating your own reality. The reason you can’t write – and the secret to overcoming writer’s block – is in you. You are smart enough, motivated enough, and powerful enough to uncover the cause of your writer’s block and get past it. You can find the solution to whatever is causing your inability to write because it’s within your reach. Indeed, you are the author of your reality.
Lack of passion for what you’re writing about
One of the most common causes of writer’s block is boredom. I get assignments from magazines and sometimes they’re the most boring topics on earth – such as how to deal with stress at Christmas. I don’t experience writer’s block when I’m given an assignment because I’m getting paid $600 per article, but I definitely procrastinate! If you’re not excited about your writing, you may think you’re experiencing writer’s block….but the reality is that you simply don’t care about the topic. The solution? Change subjects if you can or interview someone with a completely different take on the topic. Or, you might write about how bored you are with the subject matter and brainstorm positive ways to cope with it. You might also ask readers or fellow writers for tips on how to find the interesting speck in the boring topic.
No plan for your writing
Until two weeks ago, I was SO bored with my Quips and Tips blogs. I started blogging in 2008 and it’s the longest I’ve ever had a job! I was still making money blogging and I had lots of blog posts and ideas on what to write about. The cause of my “writer’s block” wasn’t lack of ideas or boredom with blogging as a business. It was a lack of a plan. Two weeks ago I gave birth to the idea of Putting Parables Into Practice, and blogging has become fresh, new, interesting, and easy again! Awesome. What about you – are you dealing with a cause of writer’s block, or do you just not have a plan for your writing? You need some sort of structure, outline, mind map, or organization for what you’re writing. Else you’ll be lost and unmotivated – and you’ll think you have writer’s block when really you’re just disorganized.
Lack of information on the topic
Another possible cause of writer’s block is lack of information. Maybe you’re writing a detective novel and you can’t figure out how to plant clues and use suspense in your story line. You might think you’re blocked as a writer…but maybe you’re just ignorant. Maybe you don’t know what clues detectives need to solve crimes, or you’re not skilled in using suspense in your writing. The solution? Learn. Do research. Think about the Sioux Indian Parable, and remember that the answer is within your reach.
In How to Fix Writer’s Block, I neglected to describe how destructive perfectionism is to writers. Identifying perfectionism as a cause of writer’s block can open you up. “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people,” writes Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. “It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”
Hillary Rettig adds that perfectionism can lead you to over identify with your writing and other projects, so your self-esteem rides on their success. “Over identifying with one’s work is dangerous because most projects succeed or fail at least partly due to circumstances beyond your control – and to make your self-esteem so heavily dependent on things you can’t control is a huge risk,” she says in Perfectionism and Addiction on HuffPost. “The fact that your goals were probably unreasonable to start with only intensifies that risk.”
If you feel obsessed with being perfect in your writing – especially if it’s a cause of writer’s block – read 4 Tips for Overcoming Perfectionism for Writers.
“I’ll never get published” and “I’m not good enough to be a writer” will lead to writer’s block. Those negative messages that are full of doubt and self-criticism will paralyze your creativity. How can you write when you think you’re not good enough to be a writer? The solution is to deal with your writing insecurities. Dig deep within yourself. Find the source of the negative self-talk, and learn how to build your confidence as a writer.
Let the Sioux Indian Parable of Awareness – the knowledge that you are creating your own reality – empower you to rewrite your narrative. Instead of hopelessly wrestling with writer’s block as some nebulous blob of failure, try to drill down into the cause of your writer’s block. Once you gain insight into your stumbling block, you are much more likely to move forward to the next chapter.
Fellow scribes, what do you think about these causes of writer’s block? I welcome your thoughts below, and your tips for overcoming writer’s block.